In New York City, an agency charged with investigating cheating allegations by public school teachers has probed just 1% of the hundreds accusations.
Special Commissioner of Investigation for City Schools (SCI) Richard Condon and his staff conducted three explorations out of 300 complaints in 2014. Aaron Short, reporting for the New York Post, writes that open cheating investigations rose to four this year.
Of all the complaints reviewed in Condon’s office in 2014, 6% were made up of cheating allegations. But the SCI passed most of the allegations to the city Department of Education’s investigation unit, the Office of Special Investigations (OSI), creating a situation that meant the DOE was investigating itself.
“It’s important that investigators are seen as independent, have professional expertise, and have no vested interest,” said Rob Brenner, a former deputy commissioner at the SCI who authored a 1999 report on cheating in schools. “Witnesses who are likely to be other school employees will be pretty wary about coming forward to an internal DOE entity.”
It was not revealed how many of the academic fraud complaints were sent to the OSI by the SCI, or how many of the complaints were substantiated. Critics have been vocal about Condon’s office disregarding the cheating cases, saying the SCI does not consider tampering with tests “sexy” enough for their attention, according to Columbia University education professor Eric Nadelstern, who said:
“In a situation where there appears to be widespread cheating in the schools, nobody connected to the Department of Education, SCI, City Hall, or the state Department of Education looks good. It appears they aren’t being vigilant enough.”
The Department of Investigation Commissioner Mark Peters, Condon’s overseer, has directed the resources of his office toward jail corruption and operators of day-care establishments because of Mayor de Blasio’s priorities which include cleaning up Rikers Island jail and launching a universal pre-K program.
The New York Post has exposed more about cheating school administrators over the summer, which may have been the catalyst for Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña’s announcement last week that she was establishing a $5 million task force of city DOE administrators to search for aberrant exam scores, credits, or graduation rates and to report the results to the SCI.
“As a lifelong educator, I cannot overstate how important it is that everyone — from teachers to principals to superintendents to myself — understand and follow academic policies, which ensure our students meet the high standards they need to go on to college and meaningful careers,” Farina stated.
In July, the DOE moved to fire Brooklyn’s John Dewey High School principal, The New York Times’ Elizabeth A. Harris reports. An investigation found that the principal had arranged for students who were facing the risk of not graduating to do extra credit work by completing packets of work in classes where they did not receive any real instruction from teachers.
In another case, the OSI released a memorandum that stated the principal of Teachers College Community School, a Harlem elementary school, had forged answers on third-grade state English exams in June. On the day this was announced, April 17, Jeanene Worrell-Breeden jumped in front of a subway train. Worrell-Breeden died on April 25.
Sol Stern writes in the New York Post that Fariña knew about the cheating because she moved up the ranks. She was a classroom teacher, a principal, a regional superintendent, deputy chancellor, and now chancellor, meaning that she has seen it all, from grade-tampering to “scrubbing” of student test sheets.
Cheating scandals have been taking place in urban school districts nationwide for years. The push for improved test scores and high graduation rates pushed educators fight to meet the standards in any way necessary. Stern concludes that Fariña should be fired because she did nothing to create stronger security measures to come against the numerous cheating opportunities that still exist in schools, of which she was aware.
Educators, says Stern, should acknowledge their failures in the classroom and analyze the reasons why they are failing. He says the problem began when in the 1960s an erroneous progressive education philosophy became pervasive in US schools and in teacher training institutes. What was eliminated was a “coherent, grade-by-grade curriculum in the schools.” Stern says:
Instead of explicitly teaching children the facts and background knowledge necessary to become good readers and productive citizens the progressives substituted the upside down idea of “student-centered learning.” That means allowing students to “construct their own knowledge” and at their own pace. After a half-century of this revolution in the classroom, no wonder so many students in this city (and in the nation) can’t pass simple exit exams and thus have to be given worthless diplomas.